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Extreme season calls for extreme measures

With the winter season fast approaching your skin may be the first shield of defense to feel the impacts of the crisp air and cooler weather.

What is “winter skin”

Did you know the stingy, irritating and extremely dry skin condition often felt during the winter season has its own health name? It’s referred to as “winter skin,” and medically known as xerosis. Xerosis is when you have abnormally dry skin, and is most commonly found among older adults.

The common signs of xerosis can range anywhere from dry, itchy skin to a feeling of extreme tightness around the skin, especially after bathing or showering. This can be prevented by using a rich, oil based cream and by drinking plenty of water!

Often times, most individuals are able to ride out the wave of uncomfortable “winter skin” woes with basic treatments such as using a heavier moisturizer However, if you find that your skin becomes chronically inflamed, itchy, red, cracked and/or severely rough and severely dry, you may have a more serious skin condition at hand.

What is eczema?

You may have heard of a medical skin condition called “eczema,” which appears more frequently during the winter season and is connected to your immune system. It’s a medical condition where patches of skin becomes inflamed, itchy, red, cracked and rough and may also cause tiny blisters to form in certain areas of the skin.

A St. Paul’s Hospital expert weighs in

Dr. Marisa Ponzo, the Head of the Division of Dermatology at St. Paul’s Hospital, further adds that eczema, a chronic inflammatory skin condition, is often characterized by red, scaly and itchy patches that can be caused by several factors: “inside factors” such as genetics + immunology; “outside conditions” such as skin allergies to products and/or fabrics; as well as humidity, temperature or psychological stress.

The skin — the largest organ of your body — is made up of two main layers:

  1. An outer layer called the epidermis;
  2. And a second inner layer called the dermis.

The epidermis layer provides the basic barrier protection from various infections and environmental pathogens, which can often stem from extreme weather conditions. During the colder season, our outer epidermis layer takes a major hit as the extreme environmental conditions often wears down our natural epidermis layer and flattens out the protective cells due to the lack of humidity.

When the outer layer of the skin breaks down, there can be an increase in inflammation in the dermis, which often causes eczema.

When we look at the effects of eczema more closely, we see that people with eczema have a weak skin barrier and are highly sensitive when it comes to certain allergens and/or irritants. Weather, including temperature and humidity, can affect this barrier and cause the skin to be more sensitive to inflammation and infection, which often shows up as frequent flare-ups. As a result, the red, angry rashes that form on the skin are often just visible signs of a deeper inflammatory issue within the body, and affects more than just the surface of the skin.

Cure of eczema

Eczema is, unfortunately, an ever-present condition. Symptoms can be treated at the surface, but the cause — inflammation — remains below the skin. Therefore, even when skin is clear and looks rash-free, the underlying inflammation may still be active and waiting to return.


Dr. Ponzo adds that the best way to treat the surface layer of your skin is to keep it hydrated. Many dermatologists, including Dr. Ponzo, refer to this skin care regimen as “gentle skin care habits.”


Gentle skin care routine + habits

  1. Take shorter (5- 10 min), lukewarm showers and be gentle while cleansing the skin.
  2. Use a non-detergent gentle cleanser and/or plain water to cleanse the skin.
  3. Apply a heavier, fragrance-free moisturizer (creams as opposed to lotions) at least twice a day.

Dr. Ponzo also recommends avoiding hot baths and showers, and using fragrance-rich products and harsh soaps, which can make eczema worse. The dermatologist adds that “everyone’s eczema is different. Treat your eczema appropriately as recommended by your dermatologist or primary care provider.”


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